Monday, May 18, 2009

Alert Group Members: Stay in touch - on the cheap: Check Out Skype!

Stay in touch - on the cheap

Internet phone services can cut costs but they have drawbacks, too

By John Dyer Globe Correspondent / May 17, 2009
Text size +

When the tough economy forces families to find ways to save money, the telephone bill can be one of the most vexing place to look for cost savings. Different rates, taxes, and fees make it difficult to shave costs while keeping in touch with grandma.

Recently, however, new Internet-based phone providers have emerged to offer cheaper and simpler bills. Not to be out-marketed by the latest technology, called VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, some traditional phone companies also are offering new plans. As a result, consumers who want to keep their landlines and also shop for lower prices have a good chance of finding what they're looking for.

Penny-pinching callers have long turned to Skype, a free application downloadable from that allows users to talk free of charge with other users around the world via the Internet. Callers need to be computer savvy enough to set up a membership, and the service works only when one's computer is online. But for anyone who makes regularly scheduled long distance calls to someone who could also sign onto Skype, the service can cut phone bills overnight.

Skype users may also use their credit cards to pay for dialing regular landline and mobile phones at a charge of around 2 cents a minute for domestic calls. But even Skype executives say the application is best as a supplement.

"Skype is not a replacement for your ordinary telephone," said Jennifer Caukin, the company's communications director.

Employing a similar concept is ooma, a device that plugs home phone systems directly into the Internet. On sale at for $249.99, the sleek white box gives users 3,000 minutes of free local and domestic long distance calls per month. For $12.99 a month, the device offers other features, like message screening and call blocking. Unlike Skype, you don't need a computer to use ooma, just an Internet connection.

Vonage is another VoIP provider that hooks up to ordinary household phone systems. But Vonage functions more like a mini telephone company, offering 24-hour customer service and monthly billing plans ranging from $17.99 plus taxes for 500 minutes of local and domestic long distance calling a month to $39.99 plus taxes for an unlimited domestic calling plan and a host of features. Vonage's hardware is free for customers opting for the more expensive plans.

Of course, VoIP requires customers to pay for the Internet, so those costs are in a sense hidden when tallying up Skype, ooma, or Vonage's price tags. Skype and ooma customers don't pay state and federal taxes and surcharges, however.

Verizon's network depends on conventional telephone lines strung along poles on the street, infrastructure the company touts as more dependable than VoIP, whose service can fluctuate with Internet traffic and won't work in a blackout. Verizon charges $44.99, plus taxes, a month for its Freedom Value plan, which includes unlimited local and long distance calls in the United States, but charges fees for voice mail and other features. For $5 more, customers can also sign up for a yearlong contract that includes Internet service. Other deals bundle calling, Internet, and cable television. (Comcast is offering a similar deal, available at for $19.99 a month for six months, with the price increasing to $44.95 afterward or $39.95 if customers bundle with Internet.)

"If you lose power, you have no phone service. That's no issue with Verizon," said spokesman Phil Santoro.

VoIP providers counter that while it's true that older phones are powered directly through traditional street lines, most people nowadays have cordless phones that shut down without electricity. They also suggest users purchase emergency backup batteries that run from $50 to hundreds of dollars at retail outlets like Best Buy and Staples to keep the service running even in a blackout situation.

Comment: If you can marshal the fundamentals, share your Skype User Name and we can hook up. Let us unify in practical ways when and where we can. Are we not all fighting for the same basic reasons with the same basic rights?

Education for Liberation!
Peter S. Lopez ~aka: Peta Sacramento, California, Aztlan
Yahoo Email:

No comments: